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Editorial: The slippery slope to corruption

Awarding honours is a notoriously cumbersome process. Anyone who goes to the trouble of nominating a deserving candidate is warned by the Cabinet Office not to expect to hear anything for 12 to 18 months, as the procedure grinds slowly into gear. No fewer than nine committees – made up principally of civil servants and other public officials – sift through the lists of nominees, before reporting to yet another committee – this one chaired by the head of the civil service.

Ministers' impatience with so slow a process is understandable, especially since it so often rewards the sort of people who sit on committees such as these. It also reasonable that, in the afterglow of the Olympics, David Cameron might be frustrated with a system that denies him the right to turn Mo Farah into Sir Mo, because the rules say that not even someone who can run 10,000 metres in comfortably under 28 minutes can go straight from holding no honours to achieving a knighthood.

A paper now with the Cabinet suggests a solution: ministers should be able to bypass the initial stages of the process and submit names directly to the main committee. Absolutely not. Sluggish and rule-bound though the current arrangements might be, at least they work to a set of rules, ensuring a measure of consistency and impartiality in the system.

There is a natural temptation for politicians to want to reward people who give either their time or their money to help political causes. It is, of course, highly undesirable that honours should be traded for favours or donations. And it is more difficult to do when there is an establishment committee of the great and the good vetting the names of nominees.

The surest way to make certain that the honours system is never abused is to abolish it altogether, as this newspaper has long recommended. While gongs continue to be awarded, however, a frustratingly slow but basically fair system is better than a fast procedure more open to corruption.